Dogs Can Cause Injuries on Walks

Leash-related accidents are common
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2017, Updated May 2022

A dog named Daisy lives next door, and my son enjoys taking her out on walks from time to time. On a recent outing, all was going well until Daisy spotted a squirrel and gave chase. My 12-year son is no match for her power or her enthusiasm, but he's fast, and he managed to stay on his feet while running full speed behind her. She would probably have abandoned her chase soon anyway, but alas, she ran through a split-rail wooden fence before that happened, causing my son to collide with it. He was able to stop himself before his whole body slammed into it, but the arm attached to the leash went between the fence rails and got scraped up enough to gross me out.

The Dog-Related Injury

As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time walking dogs knows, it is not uncommon to find that although dogs are our best friends, physics is the enemy—especially when a leash is involved.

Many professional dog trainers have suffered broken fingers when they’ve become entangled in the leash at just the wrong moment. Multiple clients who have come to me for help with reactive dogs have shared stories of dislocated shoulders caused by an out-of-control dog. It's always surprising how many of these incidents involve dogs who are not particularly large or strong.

The Centers for Disease Control’s analysis of five years of emergency room injury data found over 86,000 fall injuries were associated with pets annually. While the injuries affected people of all ages, older folks were more likely to break a bone.

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The most frequent falls were among young children and adults aged 35 to 54, but the highest injury rates occurred among people 75 and older.  This group is particularly at risk given how serious fractures can be at this age.

Dr. Judy Stevens, a retired epidemiologist formally with the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, advised that “pet owners should be aware that there are certain situations that are more likely to lead to falls, such as when they’re walking their dog or if they’re chasing their pets.”

While these accidents only account for 1 percent of all fall-related injuries, the CDC believes that the number could be much lower by doing obedience training, to minimize leash pulling and jumping, and picking up toys left around the house.

In another study from 2011, researchers found 18% of children experienced non-bite-related injuries, with some injuries occurring while being carried by adults who tripped over a dog. The study conducted over six years found that abrasions/lacerations and head injury occurred most frequently, followed by fractures of the limbs, particularly of the femur.

The ways that leashes can be damaging are endless. People are often clotheslined by leashes even when they are not walking a dog. Being pulled along the ground by a charging or running dog is far from uncommon, leading to skinned knees and elbows at the very least.

Of course, every pet parent has at least once been jarred by a sudden jerk of the leash, causing a new injury or exacerbating an old one. Skin and bones are not the only human body parts at risk. Injuries to ligaments, cartilage, and tendons can happen, too.

How to Avoid Injury when Walking Dogs

Be proactive. Use these common-sense tips to help avoid getting injured.

  • Training, training, training! This is especially important for large, strong dogs.
  • Use the right dog-walking gear. Ensure you have an appropriate leash and collar for your dog's personality and size.
  • Wear appropriate clothes. Don't get tripped up because of a flip-flop mishap.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. The world is full of surprises, so who knows what dog, squirrel, or cat may excite your dog.
  • Stay off your phone. Enjoy the walk with your dog and look to your dog's signals.
  • Don't wrap the leash around your fingers. Keep it flat in your palm.

Photo: AdobeStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life